Category : corporate communications

hedgehog curled up into a ball

Do you curl up and ignore your copy deadline or get writing?

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

A friend once compared the process of creating fresh copy to that of giving birth… but without the pain relief. Any of us who have sat staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank screen), bereft of words or ideas and downright daunted by the prospect of starting a report, presentation or web copy, will no doubt identify with that analogy.

So how to break the deadlock? Here are three tips to help you get started

1.       Throw your perfectionism out the window and just write. Even if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re writing is nowhere near the succinct, well-crafted document that will eventually become your final version, the very act of making a start can help unlock your mind and allow more coherent ideas to emerge through your reluctant writerly haze. Write down anything about the topic that comes into your mind, confident in the knowledge that you can edit it to your heart’s content later.

2.       Take a thought shower. I began by writing “brainstorm” here then remembered that this term – popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination – is now deemed offensive. So I promptly changed it to the (albeit not quite as succinct or evocative, but more politically correct) 21st century alternative. Whatever you may wish to call this process of exchanging ideas with others, the basic precept is the same: two (or more) heads are better than one. Even a brief discussion with colleagues at the water dispenser might provide the inspiration you need to get you started.

3.       Read. As any writing coach will tell you, one way to become a good writer is to read, read and read some more. And although we all know to avoid plagiarism like the… er… plague and we aspire to write unique copy at all times, the process of immersing ourselves, even briefly, in what others have previously written on similar subjects may well sow the seed of an original idea – even if only because we vehemently disagree with the other writer’s opinion!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Social media: the must-have 21st century marketing tool

EUROWORD-2014-aug-twitter-mug

As we tweet and blog our way through the second decade of the 21st century, social media is all the rage – indeed if companies aren’t using at least one form or other of social media to market their products or services, they almost certainly have a sneaking guilty feeling that they probably should be (and what’s more, they’re right!).

However, as with most things in life, moderation is a good thing. In other words, it’s wise not to throw yourself headlong into the world of (re)tweets and “likes” and “favourites” or you risk neglecting other aspects of your business in your endeavour to keep feeding the rapacious, time-gobbling beastie that social media can quickly become.

So here are three tips to bear in mind if your business is embarking on a social media campaign from scratch:

1. Identify which is/are the most important form(s) of social media for your business. At the outset, it can be bewildering as you hear people bandying around names such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Pinterest…

For my business, for example, Twitter, Facebook and blogging make most sense, as copywriting revolves around words. However, if your products are bespoke cakes, tailor-made kilts or handmade jewellery, Pinterest would almost certainly be a good choice for you, as you can pin up photos of your gorgeous creations for all to admire!

2. If you’re just starting out on Facebook and Twitter, here’s another tip for you. By all means set up your Facebook account so that it publishes all your FB posts on Twitter; however, it’s not such a good idea to have all your tweets posted automatically to your Facebook page.

Why is this? Well, simply because Twitter is a different type of forum, in that it’s more like an ongoing chat/conversation (albeit between thousands of people!) and is generally full of random thoughts, snippets of news, comments about miscellany, retweets, #FF (Friday follows) or comments on other people’s tweets, etc.

If you clutter your clients’ Facebook pages with these frequent tweets, they may well not appreciate it and promptly “unlike” your page – which is, of course, the last thing you want to happen when you’re busily trying to build up your “likes”.

3. One of the aspects of social media that often puts companies off is that it can be time-consuming. Granted, devising and finding fresh material for posts on Facebook pages and thinking up pithy 140-character tweets can begin to eat into the working day. However, there’s one way to cut down the time you spend doing this – and that’s to pre-schedule some of your posts/tweets for the week ahead.

Thanks to the Facebook scheduling facility (the small clock icon in the bottom left of your Facebook status box) and Twitter’s wonderful https://tweetdeck.twitter.com/ system, you can spend anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours (depending on how much social media activity you wish to engage in) once a week and pre-schedule the majority of your content.

You’ll notice that I said “the majority of your content”, and there’s a reason for that: one of the main points of being involved in social media is to interact with others and to respond to news/events that are happening – either in your industry in general or within your specific business – as they happen.

Consequently, you do need to be prepared to respond most days to people who leave comments or send you direct messages, and to post/tweet information that has just become available and which you know might interest your customers. That means setting aside 10 minutes or so once or twice a day to “be social”. After all, that’s what social media is all about – as the name suggests!

photo of two editing books

Five tips to help you compile a company style guide

Whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational organisation that employs thousands of people worldwide, it’s important to ensure your corporate tone of voice remains consistent across all your documents, presentations, promotional print, and social media platforms. However, as you may already have discovered in your own business, this is easier said than done…

Let’s be honest: it’s hard enough to remain consistent in your use of the English language when there’s just one of you generating copy. Multiply that by tens, hundreds or even thousands of texts being written by myriad writers in a larger company, and suddenly the task of remaining consistent in your turn of phrase and terminology escalates to one of gargantuan proportions.

I’ve mentioned before the concept of having a corporate style guide to help address this issue of consistency. So here are five tips to help you start compiling a guide which you can give to anyone writing text for your company:

  1. Decide how formal/informal you wish to sound in your communications with your customers. My previous blog post No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice talked about the different ways you can address your readership (e.g. “you” or “our customers”) or indeed refer to yourselves (“we” or “Messrs Brown & Co.”), as well as examining various other techniques that determine formality or informality of tone.
  2. Compile a list of in-house terminology that has been agreed for use by your company. Every industry has its own jargon and even within individual branches of a business, an in-house vocabulary will evolve.  The interesting thing about jargon is that often those using it are so familiar with this (to them) everyday terminology, they don’t appreciate that someone new to the company might not understand what certain terms mean – far less feel confident about including them in a report or presentation. By providing your writer(s) with  a list of the specialist terms or specific words and phrases that your business uses regularly, you’ll make it easier for new additions to your team to become conversant with your in-house style rather than drown in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary.
  3. Clearly set out in your style guide any words or turns of phrase that your company does not wish to use (or at least would prefer to avoid using, wherever possible) in its written materials. For example, it may be company policy to refer to people who buy your products as “customers” and never “clients”, or vice versa.  You might wish to ban completely the use of the word “change” in your commercial documents and insist on using “improvement” or “enhancement”, etc. However, you can’t expect a new member of staff to know, without being told, these small – yet significant – details.
  4. Stipulate whether you wish to use UK or US spelling in your corporate communications (e.g. UK spelling “organise” or US spelling “organize”, “favour” or “favor”, “colour” or “color”, “labour” or “labor”…). When you’re proofreading any text that you or your colleagues have written, always run a search for common US or UK variants, depending on which spelling you wish to banish from your prose. And remember to exercise extreme caution when using the search and replace facility – for reasons that I mentioned in a previous post Spellcheckers – the proofreader’s friend or foe
  5. Flag up regular offenders, i.e. words that you’ve noticed staff writing about your company’s products or services sometimes mix up or get wrong. This may vary from company to company or even from department to department, but over a period of time, a content manager or communications manager will begin to identify certain “rogue” spellings or incorrect word choices that pop up again and again. Just to give you an idea of the sort of thing I’m talking about, here are three that seem to dog many people who write corporate copy:
  • Practise vs practice: I’m presuming that most of the people reading this blog will be using UK English in their documentation. If so, “practice” is a noun, e.g. “There is a new veterinary practice opening in town…” or “My music practice starts at 7  p.m. every evening…” The other spelling (with an “s”) is reserved for the verb e.g. “Tomorrow I’m going to practise my golf swing.” NB: American English uses just one spelling for both noun and verb (“practice”).
  • Loose vs lose: In basic terms, if you are referring to the verb that means to mislay something then use “lose”, e.g. “He loses his tie every morning.” If you are describing a new pair of trousers that is too large for you round the waist (I wish!!) then you want the adjective “loose”.
  • 1960s  vs 1960’s: No apostrophe is required if you simply mean the decade of the 1960s, as this is a plural noun, not a possessive, e.g. “I went to every Beatles concert held in the 1960s.”  However, if you are talking about the best-selling record of the specific year 1960 then you would write, “This was 1960’s biggest hit.”

So complex is the process of maintaining a consistent style across hundreds of documents that these pointers are, admittedly, just the tip of the textual iceberg. However, at least they will give you a good foundation upon which to start building your very own company style guide. Good luck!

 

 

 

No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice

 

Do you sometimes judge people by their looks? A recent article on a BBC website suggests that most of us do.

However, when it comes to making a good impression in business, there are other factors to consider, too. One of these is the corporate identity that your business or organisation creates through its communications, which means you need to choose your words extremely carefully when “speaking” in your corporate guise, e.g. on your website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or indeed in your printed promotional materials.

One aspect to bear in mind when writing about your business – and its products or services – is that it’s important to be consistent in tone and style, which means maintaining a consistent “tone of voice”. You’ve no doubt heard that expression before many times, but what does it really mean in an everyday copywriting situation? It means, quite simply, how you say what you say.

Here are three handy tips to help you establish (and then maintain!) a corporate tone of voice:

1. Decide whether your company is going to “speak” in the:

  • Informal first person plural voice (“We supply first-class widgets…”).
  • Informal first person singular voice (“I am the world’s leading expert in… “).
  • Formal third person plural voice (“Brown Brothers produce….”).
  • Formal third person singular voice (“Our company believes that…” or “Jason Smithers is a master plumber with 30 years’ experience…”).

You should also decide whether you are going to refer to your customer in the third person (e.g. “Our customers know they can rely on us to…”) or whether you prefer to take a more direct, informal approach and address customers directly in the second person (e.g. “When you commission us to design your home, you can count on receiving impeccable customer service from us at every stage of the design process…”).

2. Having decided whether to use the formal third person voice or the less formal first and second person voices, you then have to ensure that all text emanating from your organisation reflects this same “tone”.  For example, if you have opted for the formal register, here are three things to avoid:

  • Contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t, doesn’t) – instead use the full version (e.g. cannot, will not, does not).
  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”. This used to be tantamount to sacrilege in written English and is still frowned upon in formal English texts. However, these days you’ll often see “and” or “but” at the start of sentences in informal texts, as this reflects more accurately the way we actually speak.
  • Colloquialisms and idioms. Let’s look at this in practice… Colloquial version: “Our customers always rave about our fab work.” Formal version: “Our customers are always extremely impressed by our exemplary workmanship.”

If you’ve decided you’re more comfortable with an informal tone of voice then feel free to use abbreviated words. And to start sentences with conjunctions (as we just did) or to use expressions such as “OK” and “Our company is the cat’s pyjamas” (unless you happen to manufacture feline nightwear, in which case you’d say “Our company supplies cats’ pyjamas…).

3. Ensure that everything you or your colleagues say (on Twitter, on Facebook, on your website, in your printed promotional materials and documents) reflects your brand values. To get you started, it can be helpful to spend some time choosing three or four words or phrases that encapsulate what your organisation is all about. Here are some well-known examples to get you started:

  • Apple: inspiration, dream, innovation.
  • Innocent: humorous, unpretentious, upbeat.
  • Red Bull: daring, adventurous, energetic.
  • Euroword: creative, professional, word gurus (admittedly, this brand isn’t quite as well known as the others… yet!)

Then remind anyone in your organisation who is writing text on behalf of the company to reflect these “distilled down” tenets in everything they write – or, indeed, say (e.g. in public presentations or press interviews). That way, your communications will remain consistent and on message, making the right impression on anyone who encounters your company online or in person for the first time.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the BBC article referred to above, have a look for yourself – it makes fascinating reading. In a subsequent Euroword blog post, we’ll look at why having a style guide for your company or organisation is helpful, and how to go about compiling one. Meanwhile, enjoy developing your company’s individual tone of voice, and once you’ve decided on the three words that characterise your organisation, feel free to post them on our EurowordUK Facebook page.